The observance of Passover and Easter are difficult to explain to a child. They hear the stories each spring, but children aren’t really equipped to process the events recounted in those stories for years. It’s right around adolescence that young people begin to understand and take in the stories they’ve been hearing in Temple and church, about injustice, life and death, and starting over with a second chance at life.
Whatever your family’s traditions may be, nature reinforces these themes, with its renewal of life, crocuses bursting from the barren earth, blossoms forming on bare trees, and longer stretches of sunlight. A sense of hope emerges. That sense of hope is what Sam gains during the course of the seven days following her fatal injury in a car accident in the first chapter of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It is not a book with religious themes, but it is a book about finding meaning in one’s life. Much of the rebellion associated with the teenage years involves finding one’s own way, not accepting as a package what we’ve always been told, questioning our parents, our teachers, our religious practices. We have to doubt in order to find a deeper sense of faith, whatever that faith may be.
When I was younger, I deeply resented the phrase (usually uttered by my grandparents or their friends) “Youth is wasted on the young.” I’ve come to think that what underlies that statement is that when we’re younger we have no sense of our mortality, so we take things for granted. As we get older, the moments matter more. Faced with the possibility of death, Sam begins to wonder, why did she abide her friend Lindsay’s cruelty? Why would Sam want the guy who makes her more in the eyes of her peers, rather than the guy who brings out the best in her? The fact that Sam is in the popular crowd makes her vulnerability all the more poignant. She begins to see things and people, including her own family, differently when she realizes they may be lost to her—forever. She begins to think about her “greatest hits,… the things I wanted to remember; the things I wanted to be remembered for.”